New Hampshire’s Air National Guard Continues to Adapt to New Missions
Final NHANG KC-135R departs from Portsmouth NH (Scott Zeno photo)
The New Hampshire Air National Guard’s (NHANG) 133rd Air Refueling Squadron (ARS), part of the 157th Air Refueling Wing (ARW) has been in the air refueling business since 1975. That’s forty four years at the same job, transferring fuel to thirsty American and foreign military aircraft around the world. The squadron is part of New Hampshire’s only ANG flying unit.
A Short Wing History
The phrase “All good things must come to an end” is widely attributed to English author Geoffrey Chaucer in a poem he wrote in the 1300s, quite a long time ago. Although a much shorter time period in history, during the past four or so decades the Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker has been operated from the former Pease Air Force Base by the Air National Guard. Only weeks ago, the final KC-135R left its base in Portsmouth NH for a new home in Arizona. Although the KC-135 era has come to an end, the air refueling mission is going to continue for a while, as the Air Force’s new KC-46A Pegasus will give the 133rd a new mount to practice their trade.
P-51C Mustang, USAF Photo by unknown photographer
The 133rd squadron has roots that begin during World War II, with lineage from squadrons that operated both bombers and fighters. The 383rd Bomb Squadron (Dive) became the 529th Fighter Squadron (Single Engine) and first flew North American A-36 Apaches and then P-51C Mustangs. After the war ended, the squadron was inactivated in early 1946. Reconstituted as the 133rd Fighter Squadron five months later, it fell under operational control of the newly-formed Air National Guard, in this case based in New Hampshire’s Grenier Field (now the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport). A number of piston-engined Republic F-47D fighters were operated, defending New Hampshire from air attack.
In early 1951, the 133rd was federalized due to the Korean War’s needs, and continued its defense of New England. A year and a half later, it returned to State control and soon were re-equipped with F-51H interceptors around the end of the Korean War. In the middle of 1954, the jet age arrived in the form of F-94 Starfires, a radar-equipped interceptor. They contributed to the Northeastern U.S.’s defense with a daylight runway alert flight.
F-86 Sabre, USAF photo by unknown photographer
During the 1950s, the 133rd was combined with two other New England units to form the 101st Fighter Group, and the 133rd was temporarily swallowed up by this larger group. This unit, eventually tasked with defending New England airspace, would became a full-sized Fighter Wing with units in multiple states. In 1958, the Starfires were traded in for radar equipped F-86D/L Sabres. Besides the fighters, trainer and support aircraft such as B-26, L-5 Sentinel, and even the ubiquitous C-47 were assigned to the unit.
Douglas C-124, U.S. Air Force photo via the National Museum of the United States Air Force
A big change came for the 133rd in early 1960 as it left the air defense business and was re-designated as the 133rd Air Transport Squadron under the Military Air Transport Service (MATS). The New Hampshire Air National Guard traded their defensive role (air defense) for a strategic transport role, moving freight and other cargo, plus troops and personnel. Overall command of the squadron was under the newly-designated 157th Air Transportation Group (ATG), forerunner of the NHANG’s current 157 Air Refueling Wing. Eight Boeing C-97 Stratofreighters continued to operate from Manchester’s Grenier Field, but their mission was expanded onto a worldwide stage. The Group was called to Active Duty during the initial stages of the Berlin Airlift, and early involvement in Southeast Asian conflicts too.
On January 1st 1966, MATS was replaced by the Military Airlift Command (MAC). The parent Group became the 157th Military Airlift Group and the 133rd was renamed as a Military Airlift Squadron. Soon after, the 157th and 133rd moved to the new Pease Air Force Base, in New Hampshire’s Seacoast region. The 157th and the 133rd were soon integrated with the 509th Bomb Wing on the base, and the Group’s new home was moved to the north end of the Air Base, where it still sit today. Early in 1966, the 133rd began flying supply missions to South Vietnam too. A year later, the C-97s were traded for Douglas C-124 Globemaster IIs. The double-decked transports flew missions around the world, including continued support of Vietnam operations, into the next decade.
In 1971, the 133rd was reequipped yet again with newer C-130A Hercules turboprop transports and the 133rd was designated as a Tactical Airlift Squadron. Although the cargo and passengers were somewhat similar to the C-97 and C-124 missions, the C-130 was on the cutting edge of tactical transport, and closer to the would-be battlefield. Low level navigation training flights were regularly accomplished at lower altitudes in training routes over New England, much closer to the ground than the trips in the strategic transports. And in another, somewhat radical change, the last C-47 was retired from the NHANG this same year.
157th ARW KC-135A at a Pease AFB air show, (Ken Kula photo)
A short four years later, the unit was re-designated in 1975 as a Strategic Air Command unit. Issued Boeing KC-135A Stratotankers and now known as the 133rd Air Refueling Squadron, it remained under the similarly-re-designated 157th Air Refueling Group. The National Guard Group was integrated into the 509th Bomb Wing, the main tenant of the Pease Air Force Base. It became only the second ANG flying unit to be integrated into a SAC Bomb Wing.
NHANG KC-135E Stratotanker (Ken Kula photo)
In 1984, the 133rd received rebuilt KC-135E tankers through a program to upgrade Air National Guard tankers nationwide.
The NHANG 157th Air Refueling Group soon became a Wing after integration with SAC (Ken Kula photo)
The Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) recommended that the Air Force Base be closed, and the 509th Bomb Wing be moved. The Air National Guard part of the base remained for the NHANG to operate, otherwise the base was redeveloped into a civilian airport.
Final 157th ARW KC-135R, 57-1419, about to depart for its new home in Arizona (Kevin Burke photo)
In 1992, the 157th became the 157th Air Refueling Wing, with the 133rd ARS as its flying unit. In 1993, the Wing received their KC-135Rs, the current version of the tanker aircraft after all KC-135A and –E airframes that were viable were refurbished with new turbofan engines. The Pacer CRAG program subsequently upgraded the navigation equipment and led to the end of the need of carrying a human navigator aboard the jet… this program ended in 2002.
The 133rd ARS and their KC-135A/E/R mounts were involved with multiple conflicts in the Middle East, in Europe during the Bosnian and Yugoslavian conflicts, and off the Atlantic Coast as part of the Northeastern Tanker Task Force – serving military flights to Europe and beyond. By 2005, a full dozen KC-135Rs were operated by the 133rd, a larger number than regular squadrons, partly in response to the needs of the Northeast Tanker Task Force’s operations. Those operations increased in tempo after flying patrols overhead the United States were begun after the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11.
Artwork commemorating the NHANG’s 60th year of operations (Ken Kula photo)
Wing personnel have earned numerous awards throughout its service, such as an Outstanding Unit Award and in 1997, the 157th’s crew won the Navigation trophy at SAC’s force-wide Giant Voice competition.
Being KC-46A Pegasus, (USAF photo by SrA Cody Dowell)
The Present and Future
On May 22, 2013, the Pease Air National Guard Base, with its 157 ARW and 133rd ARS, was selected as the preferred base for the new Boeing KC-46A Pegasus, a specialized commercial B767 variant. A dozen new KC-46s will be based at Pease, and a training mission form all future ANG Pegasus operators will be operated in New Hampshire. In preparation to this mission, on March 24, 2019 the last Stratotanker based at Pease – KC-135R aircraft 57-1419 – departed, ending a forty-four year association with Boeing’s KC-135.
Some of the attendees at the March 24th ceremony at the Pease Air National Guard Base (Scott Zeno photo)
An official Sunday afternoon divestiture ceremony marked the retirement of the KC-135 from the NHANG; it was attended by hundreds of former and current NHANG men and women, their families and friends, and dignitaries from the State and Federal Governments too.
157th ARW Wing Commander Colonel John Pogorek (Scott Zeno Photo)
An oral history of the unit was told by Colonel John Pogorek, Commander of the 157th ARW, and a “tribute video” published by the Public Affairs Office was seen by all. A history of the aircraft was given too.
The crew that would fly the last tanker out of Pease, led by Colonel Pogorek, was then given a ceremonial key to the aircraft by the 157th Maintenance Group; it would be passed to the next “keepers” of aircraft 57-1419 in Phoenix Arizona. Master Sergeant John Lennon, with thirty-five years of flying on KC-135s as a boom operator, was part of the crew too.
Lieutenant General L. Scott Rice, the Director of the United States Air National Guard (Scott Zeno photo) National Museum of the United States Air Force
In all, there were at least seven active and retired Generals in attendance. A keynote speaker was Lieutenant General L. Scott Rice, who is the Director of the Air National Guard at the Pentagon level. He also has connections to New England, including flying A-10s from Westfield Massachusetts and passing through the Pease AFB numerous times while flying Air Force F-111s.
Brigadier General Laurie Farris, the Chief of Staff of the New Hampshire Air National Guard (Scott Zeno photo)
Another speaker was Brigadier General Laurie M. Farris, who was once a pilot and ultimately an instructor pilot with the 157th ARW; she spoke about how the KC-135 taught many young people responsibility and offered them a chance to grow as they performed duties with KC-135s. Now, the KC-135 era has ended and the KC-46 era has already begun.
To recap the 133rd Fighter/Transport/ Refueling Squadron’s roles since the end of World War II, its planes and personnel provided air defense with piston and jet-powered fighters during the early Cold War Period, transport capacity in the strategic role with piston-powered freighters, then turboprop powered tactical air transport for a short period, and finally air refueling capabilities since the Vietnam War era. (A fantastic book to read deeper into the history of the unit and the New Hampshire Air National Guard is: Granite Wings: A History of the New Hampshire Air National Guard, 1947-1998).
The key to KC-135 57-1419 is passed by Colonel John Pogorek to Arizona Air National Guard personnel, at 1419’s new home in Phoenix AZ. (U.S. Air National Guard/Master Sgt. Kelly Deitloff)
With their legacy of seventy-three years of Air National Guard and active Air Force service bursting with notable accomplishments, the 157th ARW and the 133rd ARS begin writing another chapter with the KC-46A Pegasus. The first aircraft of a dozen planned for the 157th ARW is expected to arrive this autumn in New Hampshire, but construction of remodeled hangars, classrooms, a new simulator and other facilities have been in the works for over a year. I think that in this case, “All good things must come to an end”, could be replaced with the saying “From every ending comes a new beginning”, and I wouldn’t expect anything else but good things to continue.